ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria’s attorney general said on Tuesday the country would not appeal an international ruling that handed the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to its neighbor Cameroon ten years ago, despite calls from the Senate to re-open the dispute.
Nigeria gave up Bakassi in 2008 after years of political disputes, legal skirmishes and violence that killed dozens of people and nearly pushed the two nations into war.
Its decision not to pursue a legal challenge was an attempt to avoid a new diplomatic row over the disputed territory.
Nigerian senators had argued that the original 2002 ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was unfairly based on an agreement between the British and local chiefs in 1881 and should be put to a referendum monitored by the United Nations.
But Attorney General Mohammed Bello Adoke said on Tuesday the government had decided to drop the matter because “a failed application will be diplomatically damaging to Nigeria”.
“The Federal Government is of the informed view that with less than two days to the period when the revision will be statute-barred, it would be impossible for Nigeria to satisfy the requirements,” he said in a statement.
“The government has therefore decided that it will not be in the national interest to apply for revision of the 2002 ICJ judgment.”
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan had on Thursday ordered a committee headed by Adoke to review the ICJ ruling, after the Senate called on him to appeal it.
Around 90 percent of the peninsula’s population - estimated at between 200,000 and 300,000 people - regard themselves and their families as Nigerian. Many of them are fishermen and do not want to be Cameroonians, though the main motive for the dispute remains the oil reserves beneath Bakassi.
“The government wishes to assure ... the people living in the Bakassi Peninsula of its determination to explore all avenues necessary to protect their interests including ... negotiations aimed at buying back the territory,” Adoke said.
Tensions remain high in the area. A movement called the Bakassi Self-Determination Front declared independence from Cameroon in August, hoisting a flag and setting up an FM radio station.
“We call on all well meaning Nigerians in the Bakassi peninsula to be law abiding and to allow the various initiatives being undertaken by the Federal Government to bear fruitful results,” Adoke said.
Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Andrew Osborn